October is Work and Family Month, and it was packed with events, progress on policy, press conferences and declarations on working families. First the White House Summit on Worker Voice brought together 250 workers, union members, business owners and community groups to discuss how our families and economy thrive when workers have a voice on the job. Seven DC Council Members introduced the strongest leave bill in the nation, calling for 16 weeks of paid family and medical leave insurance. The Department of Labor also circulated a welcome report laying out "The Cost of Doing Nothing" detailing the economic and health consequences that result from inaction on affordable time to care. Members of Congress spoke at a press conference and on the floor of the House on why it's time for policies that truly value families.
During it all, I thought about the people who turned their personal pain into the activism that is fueling change for families across the country.
Inneshia Hart from New York City was propelled into activism when her employer failed to submit her temporary disability paperwork forcing her to return to work two short weeks after delivering her baby. In addition to healing, she needed time to bond with her new baby. Inneshia got really busy and became a union delegate and activist. At first, she was reluctant to tell her story publicly, "but I realized I needed to tell it so other women can have a baby without financial hardship and have time to bond". She is now a union organizer and digging in to win paid family leave insurance in NY.
There's also Yair Buendia from Corvallis, Oregon, who as a high school student worried about falling behind. Because his mother, like most people in their community, had no paid sick days, he at times had to stay home to care for his younger brother, who suffered from a chronic illness. Yair joined the successful campaign for paid sick days in Eugene and statewide. He's now attending college and is a student organizer.
Liz Shuler, Secretary Treasurer of the AFL-CIO, shared similar stories in a Work and Family Month speech at the National Women's Democratic Club. She highlighted the well-documented advantage that union members have over non-union counterparts with regard to wages, benefits, and a much smaller gender and race pay gap. The AFL-CIO just launched the National Survey of Working Women to better understand the challenges that working women face. The title of her speech says it all: "Our Days, Our Lives: Working Women Need a Voice on the Job".
This amazing month culminated with a Day of Action spearheaded by the Democrats on the Congressional Education and Workforce Committee. In his opening remarks at the forum, Ranking Member Bobby Scott (VA), stated, "Working families need more than a paycheck, they need a decent life." He announced the Resolution for Working Families which calls on Congress to hold votes on a work and family agenda. The 10 bills in the agenda span the gamut of issues working people and their families face on pay, time to care, scheduling and the right to organize. Experts and workers at the forum described the ways in which each bill supports family life and the American economy. Buz Grossburg of Buz and Ned's BBQ in Richmond described why he increased wages for the workers at his restaurant, "I began to see that they were exhausted and had little family time - they were working 2 or 3 jobs to make ends meet. We weren't paying enough".
Included in the package are bills that provide paid sick days, family and medical leave insurance, fair schedules, and access to quality early learning and affordable childcare. The Resolution also aims to protect workers who want to join a union, increase the minimum wage and make it harder for employers to misclassify workers. Other protections guarantee equal pay for equal work, accommodations for pregnant workers, and non-discrimination for LGBT workers.
More than a dozen Congress Members attended the forum and press conference. Several stood up for this Resolution at a Special Hour on the House floor; close to 90 have signed onto it. The document was a powerful statement of unity across race, gender and sexual orientation, calling upon Congress to protect a worker's right to earn a living and be there for the family they love. It was also a strong message for the new House Speaker Paul Ryan (WI), who during this work and family month, declared that a condition of becoming Speaker was that he "cannot and will not give up my family time." These members of Congress intend to meet with Mr. Ryan to call for his support of policies that make sure no American has to give up their family time, especially when a loved one is in need of care.